Chapter 17: Secrets and Irises (4)
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.
5:15 am — Live Coverage Spot #1
“To all of our wonderful viewers who are up early on this holiday morning! We have prepared a very special program for you today. The reporter is special too~ Let’s call his name! Kunieda-san~!”
“Good morning to everyone in Kansai. I am Asahi TV announcer Kunieda Kei. You most often see me at night on The News, but today I have made a special visit here. Can you guess where I am right now? You can see the large red gate in the back…”
“Today is Coming of Age Day, so that means—?”
“That’s right. I am here at the head shrine of Ebisu: Nishinomiya Shrine in Nishinomiya City, Hyogo Prefecture. And if we lower the camera… We have participants packed tightly together waiting for the start of the Coming of Age Day custom—the Lucky Man race. I am holding a thermometer that currently reads a temperature of 1°C. It is quite a cold morning today, but even separated by a road between here and the participants, I can feel the heat of enthusiasm from everyone aiming for the Number 1 Lucky Man title.”
“Oh, and of course, Kunieda-san will also be participating in the race…”
“As an observer.”
“Awww, ya don’t say~”
“But on the other hand, we do have my junior colleague, sports news anchor for The News, Announcer Minagawa Tatsuki standing by for the race.”
“We aren’t able to speak to him until the end of the race, but he had great luck in the lottery, and he’s starting at the very front row next to the Red Gate. We hope to see a great finish from him.”
“Oh, he does look very swift-footed~ Not that I know~”
“He says that he’s very confident in his speed. We will report back next at around 5:50 am, just before the start of the race. You won’t want to miss it.”
“Kunieda-san, thank you very much. Please take care not to catch a cold~”
5:50 am — Live Coverage Spot #2
“Let’s call for Nishinomiya Shrine, where shortly they will hold the Coming of Age Day Lucky Man race. Kunieda-san of Asahi TV, hello!”
“Hello, once again, I am broadcasting live from Nishinomiya Shrine in Nishinomiya City, Hyogo Prefecture. The current temperature outside is 0.7°C. It has dropped slightly from earlier. According to officials from the shrine, more than 5,000 people have gathered here today to participate in the race. And at the front of the Red Gate, we have the very serious contenders who came out last night for a lottery and garnered the best starting positions. Like I have previously reported, Announcer Minagawa Tatsuki of Asahi TV is also among the participants. He, of course, has received no special treatment. He lined up with all the other participants last night and drew a spectacular number. Will his excellent luck continue? Or has he used it all up just to get here? With shares of Ebisu-sama’s wealth and fortune up for grabs, the Lucky Man race starts in less than 10 minutes!”
“Okay, we’ve tossed it back to the studio. Time to move to our next locations!”
There was no time to lose, and Shin gave his brief instructions as he packed up the equipment. This was the first time he had directed a live broadcast spot, and his heart was pounding like crazy, but maybe because he had done the planning himself, unlike his nerves, he was able to move his mouth just fine.
“A-cam will go just inside the Red Gate. B-cam will stand by at the water basin across from the pavilion. The rest of us will head inside the main shrine. When we go live in our next spot, we will cover the actual race. The coverage starts at 5:59 with Kunieda-san at the main shrine. He will say, ‘The race is about to start,’ and the control room will switch to A-cam for the start, B-cam for the middle, and the main shrine for the finish line. After the top three finishers reach the finish, shrine officials will announce their names, so the AD at the main shrine will need to listen carefully to match the names and faces and relay the information to the control room. They will make the chyrons with their names to display on the screen.”
“What do I do if I can’t figure out the kanji in their names?”
“It’s fine to use katakana, but if you can also get their ages, that would be amazin’. Just be careful, because if we miss the announcement, there will be the awards ceremony and other fanfare going on, and we won’t be able to catch them for a while, so please pay special attention to it. And after the winners finish, the next and final spot for the live coverage will be at 6:40. It will be at the main shrine, where the Number 1 Lucky Man will give press interviews to the media. If the Number 2 and Number 3 are interestin’, we’ll go to them. Let’s stay flexible. And dependin’ on when we wrap, we’re free to leave after that. Does anyone have any questions? …So everyone’s clear, I take it. All right, next we’re goin’ live to the nation. Let’s do our best to make it a trouble-free broadcast.”
Voices called out “Understood” and “Roger that.” Shin headed to the main shrine with Kei and Ushio. There were all sorts of media outlets already swarming around, but only Asahi TV was allowed to film from the main shrine where the runners would sprint towards them for the finish line. With one of their own participating in the race, Shitara had negotiated with the shrine officials beforehand so that they could get a great vantage point if Tatsuki had happened to make it into the first 1,500 participants. So even though Tatsuki was allowed to come in last, there was no slacking off for the live coverage team.
“Ahhh, I’m so nervous…”
Inside the brightly lit main shrine, there were already three Shinto priests in light blue-green hakama preparing to catch the top Lucky Man finishers. When Shin rubbed his chest and whispered his feelings, Ushio, who was manning the camera, asked, “Which one? Minagawa’s placement or the broadcast?”
“Both of them.”
Due to the layout of the course, they would only see the runners approach the main shrine after they turned the final corner. They wouldn’t know who would appear until just before the finish line. Shin didn’t know if it was a good or a bad thing that he couldn’t see the progress. Whether they liked it or not, the race would be settled in under 30 seconds.
Please don’t let him trip or fall.
Shin prayed to Ebisu-sama in his head. This was Ebisu’s main shrine of worship; maybe Shin’s prayers would reach him, even if he didn’t normally worship anyone.
Tatsuki bounced a few times inside the tiny space he was allotted at the starting line.
Yeah, I feel good, I’m still loose.
Beyond the Red Gate, he could hear voices of families and supporters chattering impatiently, saying “How many more minutes?” and “Let’s go find a spot.” Outside the gate, there had been sporadic conversations among the lineup of men, but as the start of the race drew closer, everyone naturally shut their mouths. Only the sound of breathing and the white exhales of breaths shrouded the darkness of this early dawn.
Suddenly the tip of his nose felt chilled. He heard voices around him say “It’s snow.”
“This is the worst.”
“We’re gonna slip.”
Tatsuki looked up at the sky and closed his eyes. He visualized the scene beyond the gate. After the gate opened to the first straightaway, he would pull away from the pack and take the Curve of Balance, making as tight a turn as possible at top speed into another straightaway, the Lucky Men Path, which stretched for a lengthy 100 meters. It was paved with stone tiles, but he was fine. He wouldn’t slip. If it was wet or frozen with snow, he would dash through it anyway. After turning another corner, there was the Camphorwood of Judgement, a tree that stood up like a trap. He would take the inside split to attack the final corner for a full-out sprint to the finish.
Everything was fine. Nothing went wrong in his visualizations, and although he was sleep-deprived, his body felt light. His pulse was beating hard and fast, but that was only his nerves. He didn’t need to suppress them. His nerves were his allies. They could transform into energy, into adrenaline, not fear. He wasn’t afraid. He would fly through the course without any brakes. He would only focus in front of him, like a racehorse wearing a blinker to narrow its field of vision.
When Tatsuki opened his eyes, his vision suddenly turned clear, like a camera sharpened into focus, and the randomly scattered snowflakes came to standstill in the air.
Huh? I can count each of the flakes.
It was but a momentary sensation, and the world around Tatsuki came back to life. But that momentary sensation stayed with him.
It was a sensation that felt like he could do anything. That he wouldn’t lose to anyone here. His entire body itched just wanting to run. If it wasn’t so cramped here, he felt like he could do a front flip in the air.
Shin had told him, Dun try so hard, and Tatsuki understood why he had said that. Even if Shin had known about the bet with Kei, he probably would have said the same thing.
I’m sorry, Nacchan. But I’m going to give it everything I’ve got.
5:59 am — Live Coverage Spot #3
“There’s just one minute to go until the start of the Lucky Man race at Nishinomiya Shrine! Kunieda-san!”
“Yes, the race will be staring at last. We will send you to the camera at the Red Gate for the start of the race. Here we go!”
“It’s 6,” Ushio announced, looking at his watch, and at the same time, Shin could hear the roar of voices from the gate in the distance. The winter air vibrated with the ground-rumbling footsteps that pounded towards them in the blink of an eye. He couldn’t see the runners, but he could feel a bloodlust that made him want to flee. Maybe a mass stampede of animals in the savannah felt as intimidating as this.
“They’re coming! They’re here, they’re here, they’re here!” someone yelled.
It was a group of 5 to 6 runners who first appeared after the final turn. They vied for the lead with almost no difference between them, and Tatsuki was there among them.
However, as soon as Shin spotted him, someone slipped and fell, and although Tatsuki avoided a direct hit, his quick sidestep had slowed him down. Shin’s heart had essentially jumped into his throat, and he almost averted his eyes. It was entirely due to his sense of professionalism that he barely restrained himself from doing so. The runners were fast, and there was no recovery from even the slightest loss of the lead. Just when Shin had thought, Ahh, he ain’t gonna make it, he was sure that he heard a voice.
As soon as Shin went, Huh?, he felt a hard push to his back, and Shin pitched forward, tumbling out towards the finish area.
At the edge of his vision he saw Tatsuki. Tatsuki was also looking at Shin. Tatsuki ran straight for him, flying over the pavement. With no hesitation.
Shin staggered with tangled feet to turn towards Tatsuki. He spread his arms wide open.
Give it ya best, keep running ’til ya get here.
Tatsuki accelerated like a rocket engine had burst from behind him. He reached the main shrine faster than anyone else—and flew into Shin’s arms.
The crash in that instant could have been called a light traffic accident, and Shin wouldn’t have objected. He felt like his eyeballs could have flown out of his sockets. The pressure made it impossible to inhale or exhale, like a sledgehammer had slammed into him. If he hadn’t been wearing layers of heavy clothing for winter, he might have broken a rib or his collarbone.
However, Tatsuki was so excited that he didn’t seem to feel any pain, and he used the momentum to lift Shin up into his arms and ran around the area in circles.
“Yay~!! I’m first!! I did it!! Ahahahahaha!!”
“Hey, lemme down, lemme down, lemme down.”
The Head Priest came up to them as Shin had a coughing fit and hit Tatsuki’s shoulders, while Tatsuki ignored him and laughed.
“Oh! Mr. Head Priest! Thank you for all your hard work and support! It turned out incredible today!”
“I’m afraid you’re disqualified.”
With that single remark, the rocket finally exhausted itself.
“It’s not that surprising. You must be caught by an official priest to be accepted as one of the Lucky Man winners. It’s unfortunate, but that makes you disqualified. But more importantly, what were you thinkin’!? You could have seriously hurt yourselves. …Ahhh, I need to hurry to the awards ceremony. We will talk more about this later.”
The Head Priest reemphasized, “In any case, you’re disqualified,” and when he left to head over to the altar, Tatsuki finally released Shin and yelled “No wayyyyy!!” with both hands pressed to his head.
“…Well, it’s only natural, ya know. —Ah!”
Oh, right, whatta ’bout the live broadcast?
Shin turned frantically back to the staging area, and Kei was on the phone speaking with someone.
“Yes. For the next spot, I believe we can conduct the normal press interviews with the first-place winner. As for Minagawa… Won’t there be the possibility of backlash if we focus on him too much? …All right, then I will ask him for a brief comment. Let’s avoid any implication in our remarks that suggest that he should have placed first. Thank you, let’s move forward with that plan. If you’re ready, I can give you the name and age of the Number 1 Lucky Man. He’s a 21-year-old university student—”
Shin couldn’t process what was happening and stood there frozen in place.
“The live coverage is over,” Ushio said. “After the three people behind Minagawa caught the priests to finish the race, Kuneida-san commented, ‘Announcer Minagawa mistakenly ran over to a director who had stumbled, and unfortunately he appears to be disqualified,’ and calmly closed out the spot.”
In addition, the AD who was supporting them had also been distracted by the accident, and like Shin, forgot about the job he was supposed to do, and Kei had covered for him, without missing a beat, to get the names of the top three finishers. Shin was overwhelmed with the urge to get down on his knees and prostrate himself out of gratitude and contrition, but he couldn’t exactly do that right now.
“But yeah, sorry, Nacchan. I immediately turned the camera when it happened and caught your face in the frame briefly.”
“No, it’s all right, it’s my fault to begin with…”
Anyone operating a camera would unconditionally follow the movement that happened around them. He couldn’t blame him for that. But still, that? That had been shown to living rooms all around the country this early morning? Did the warning ‘obstructions arise from amorous desires’ also refer to that?
God, please gimme a break.
6:40 am — Live Coverage Spot #4
“—The light snow that had been falling earlier has also stopped. And that was our interview with the Number 1 Lucky Man winner this year, Kurihara Kenji-san, a third-year university student in Kobe City. Thank you very much, Kurihara-san.”
“Where is Announcer Minagawa right now?”
“He is here with me. Shall I call him over?”
“Should you? Yes, please call him over.”
“All right. Minagawa-san, if you would please.”
“Good morning~! I’m Minagawa Tatsuki~!”
“Good morning. You ran a great race today, but it was really too bad about the results. Your last spurt was incredible! You really took it in the home stretch, to use a horse racin’ term~”
“Thank you very much. But please don’t do what I did, everyone! Make sure to aim for the priests at the finish line!”
“It’d be pretty tough to replicate it tho’. All right, please offer some final words to the Kansai viewers before signing off.”
“I’m always open to an offer from USJ to shoot a special story for them!”
“I asked for a message to the viewers! All right, thank you very much for your time this early morning.”
Once the event was more or less over, naturally the Head Priest came over to reprimand them, but at the end, he chuckled wryly and said, “Well, but I’m sure that Ebessan found it entertainin’. I’ve watched this ritual for many, many years, but that was a rather spectacular rally at the end.”
“Oh, then I’ll come back next year and try again! And I’ll remember to follow the rules next time.”
The Head Priest looked very against the idea. It was only reasonable. Not only did he not know what kind of blunder Tatsuki would make again, he couldn’t even hate him for making trouble.
When Shin gave Shitara a call, the first thing out of Shitara’s mouth was “I watched it.” In his voice was the nuance that he should be angry with them, but it was pretty funny, and Shin felt relieved, but first he apologized.
“I am very sorry for all the trouble I caused. It was all my fault that I tripped at the worst possible moment and caused so much trouble for everybody.”
“Well, it was an unfortunate accident. Are you two okay? You’re not hurt anywhere?”
“We’re fine, we’re not hurt.”
“I’m glad to hear that.”
Shin could sense the relief in his words.
“Well, I’ll save the lecture for tomorrow. For now, come back safe and sound so that you can get to work on tonight’s broadcast.”
“Yes, sir… Umm, what about the clip for the segment?”
“We’ll air it. The time slot will be what we planned for, but well, we won’t focus so much on the finish, and we’ll play it at the end of the show. Something to say that we caused a bit of a commotion, but nothing too egregious. It’s not like we disrupted the ritual or hurt anyone in the process.”
Shin was happy that the footage that they took wouldn’t go to waste, but that scene of Tatsuki crashing into his arms and hugging him would be aired prime time in people’s living rooms… Imagining it made his heart anxious. Plus the ratings would be 3 or 4 times higher than it was this morning. Although on one hand, society did tend to forget things very quickly, it was also the truth that it would probably live forever somewhere on the Internet now that his face had been captured on TV.
“What’s wrong? You sound pretty down.”
“Umm… May I blur out my face with a mosaic?”
When he posed his question, Shitara burst out laughing on the other end of the line.
“Sure, go ahead, but it might make it look even more unnatural, or even more questionable, in my opinion. Has the crew left already?”
“Yes. I plan to return to the hotel after this and check out… We should be back to the network by noon.”
“Got it. Take care then, okay? Please give my thanks to Kunieda and Ushio-kun too.”
Shin finished getting his things together at the hotel and called Kei and Ushio’s room over the hotel phone.
“Hello, Tsuzuki-san? I’m sorry, I forgot to tell you earlier, but your room can be used until noon even after we’ve checked out, so please feel free stay until then.”
“Thanks. Why don’t you come over to the room with Minagawa? Let’s drink some coffee together.”
They accepted the invitation and headed over. Maybe Kei had taken a shower, because Shin could hear the sound of the blow-dryer from the bathroom. As he drank the drip coffee that Ushio had prepared for them from the room amenities, Shin finally felt like he was himself again. He could really feel the fatigue and soreness from being on his feet all morning.
They exchanged small talk, like “It was a long morning” and “It was so cold out,” and then Ushio gave Shin a somewhat curious look.
“By the way, Nacchan, did you happen to trip on something at the time? You had really staggered on your feet there.”
Tatsuki agreed. “Yeah, yeah, it was like you just tumbled on out.”
Shin was about to say, I was just clumsy, but with the two of them there, he changed his mind and nervously spoke up.
“Umm, I know that it might make me sound crazy, but… I heard a voice.”
“Yes, and then I felt somethin’ push me in the back… So, um, I thought… um, maybe it was a message from God… Kinda?”
Shin faltered in his confession, not entirely sure that even he believed what he had experienced, but Ushio followed up and asked, “What did you hear?”
“I mighta misheard or imagined things… But I think I heard the voice say, ‘Go, Kitarou.’”
Ushio and Tatsuki exchanged looks with one another.
Ack, crap, are they thinkin’ that I lost my marbles?
Shin frantically smiled and tried to dismiss it. “But that could never happen. Please don’t think ’bout it too much. I’m sure I was just nervous and tired from the lack o’ sleep—”
However, that was when Shin heard it again.
“It was me.”
Yeah, that was the voice. Shin turned around in surprise, and before he realized it, Kei was standing there. He couldn’t remember when the sound of the blow-dryer had stopped. However, that wasn’t what was important right now.
His hair was completely disheveled, just freshly dried. His shirt was sloppy and untucked with three of the buttons undone and his cuffs unaccounted for. But most importantly, that perfect smile that was always on his face, that was blended to order following a complicated formulation recipe—it had disappeared. This was… Kunieda-san, right?
“…U-Um,” Shin gingerly ventured. “Did you just say, ‘It was me’?”
The voice was certainly Kei’s, but it had a brusque texture to it, like the top layer of varnish had been peeled off. That was another thing that Shin had never heard from him.
“Um, what do you mean by that…?”
Shin kept falling speechless, completely lost for words, and he stared at Kei dumbfounded.
That was when Tatsuki spoke up. “Senpai, you’ve got all the eighth graders beat with your delusions.”1
“I don’t want to hear that from a damn second grader!!”2
Shin turned back to look at Tatsuki and Ushio again, and they both seemed to think nothing of it.
“Huh? What’s happenin’? I feel like I’m the only one not followin’ things here.”
“Hnnn, sorry about that, Nacchan,” Ushio said. “We’ve never mentioned this to you, but this is the person that Kunieda-san is.”
“Even if you put things so simple like that… I can’t really wrap my head around it. T-Then what about the Kunieda-san that I see every day?”
“That’s his public persona.”
With just a few words, the shock burst out of him.
“You hafta be kiddin’!? Ain’t that too crazy of a difference!?”
“Yeah, I was really surprised at first too.”
Tatsuki chimed in. “Seriously~ Don’t worry, Nacchan, you’ll get used to it soon.”
“Huh? Dun tell me that everyone at the show knows? And I’m the only one who was left out?”
“Of course not, silly. There’s probably less than ten people in the world who know about this. Wow, now that I think about it, that’s pretty amazing~”
“Then how d’ya know ’bout it?”
“I found out in a simple accident. By the way, Tsuzuki-san is Kunieda-san’s boyfriend.”
Shin felt like no matter what accident happened on the air this year, nothing would surprise him more than this, and that he’d be able to handle anything. He would probably never experience shock after shock after shock like today again (both physically and mentally).
“Minagawa just spilled it. What will you do, Kunieda-san?” Ushio said rather pleasantly.
“What? But he totally revealed himself to Nacchan, so shouldn’t that mean that I can say it? He totally pushed Nacchan out in front so that I could make a comeback in the final stretch, right? Senpai, you’re so kind~! Kunieda-san’s kindness echoes throughout the Rokko Mountains~!”3
“Are you really going to keep mouthing off, you moron!?”
Although Shin’s thought processes had ground to a halt, it started moving again in earnest.
Kunieda-san was dating Tsuzuki-san. Minagawa had said that he was rejected by a man a long time ago, but he still talked to him a lot. And in order to tell Shin about him, he said that he needed to lay some groundwork first— What? What?
He let out his voice without thinking.
“Oh, it looks like he finally got it.”
According to Ushio’s explanation, Tatsuki had tried to talk to Kei about it, but Kei wasn’t very receptive, and as a compromise, they had set winning first place at the Lucky Man race as the condition for Kei’s cooperation. No wonder why Tatsuki had been so fired up.
“So Nacchan, are you satisfied with the answer~?”
“Even if ya ask me like Tamori,4 I dunno. Ya hit me with too many things at once, an’ my head’s ’bout to burst…”
However, he didn’t have time to sort out the contents of his brain here. He didn’t know what to say to Kei while they weren’t working, and he could only nervously apologize. That was when Kei spoke up with a disgruntled look.
“Senpai, you need to make your voice higher~”5
“I’m not imitating the damn eyeball! …Don’t you dare say anything about this to anyone. If you do, I’ll nail that moron over there to the Glico billboard in crucifixion.”6
“Ahhh, I wanted to see more of Osaka~ Let’s do it next time!”
“I have nothing more to say, so get the hell out!!”
The overload of information in his brain felt like there was no room for oxygen there. When they stepped out into the hallway, Shin took several deep breaths.
“Are you okay?”
“No, prolly not. How am I supposed to treat Kunieda-san when I see ’im from now on?”
“Just treat him the same as always,” Tatsuki said nonchalantly. “Oh, but, hmm. Let’s see, if he ever runs into trouble, why don’t you quietly do what you can to help him out? That way, Kunieda-san will think, ‘Oh, I’m glad I revealed my secret to Kitarou.’”
“Kunieda-san has things that he’s troubled about?”
“Yeah, his public persona is too perfect, so it places a lot of restrictions on his life.”
Nothing clicked with him at all, but the three of them left the hotel together with Ushio seeing them off, and they boarded the Nozomi back to Tokyo. Kei sat by the window in a row of three seats and pulled out a different book to read. Tatsuki sat in the middle, crashing before the train even pulled out of Shin Osaka Station, and Shin, in the aisle seat, was bored. There was no way he could pull out his laptop and concentrate on his work under the circumstances.
Shin stared vacantly at the scrolling news headlines and weather forecast mounted above the door of the train car. That was when Kei, with his eyes still on the book, said in a low voice, “Coffee.”
“Uh, oh, okay.”
Shin bought the item as instructed from the food cart and softly placed it on the tray table in front of Kei.
“Pardon me… Here you are.”
Shin didn’t receive a reply, but he saw a slight nod of Kei’s head. It probably sounded strange, but he felt relieved to be ordered around. And once he felt the relief, he felt a strong wave of drowsiness overcome him, and he dropped his head down.
Shin woke up at the announcement for the train’s arrival at Shin Yokohama. He quietly looked over towards the window and saw Tatsuki still comfortably asleep and Kei still reading the book with the same profile that Shin had seen two hours earlier. Kei had to be tired, but the strength of his outward appearance was far too impenetrable. But apparently Kei had Ushio, who would be there for him, and Shin felt like because of that, Kei would be okay. Shin knew nothing about the two of them, but it seemed right that Ushio supported Kei’s hard work and effort.
Would there be a time when something troubled Kei and Shin could help him out?
If that time really did come, Shin would give it his all. He made his resolution and woke Tatsuki as he said, “We’re almost back.”
—–Translated by daydrop. Please read on the original site at daydrop.nowaki.net.
- Yes, Tatsuki is calling Kei a chuuni.
- Eighth grade is the second year of middle school, so Tatsuki gets demoted to a second grader.
- The Rokko Mountains are nearby in Hyogo Prefecture.
- Tamori is a famous TV personality. He has very distinctive fall-rise question intonation, and he appears on commercials too.
- The Kitarou anime character Medama-Oyaji (Daddy Eyeball) has a very high falsetto voice.
- The Glico billboard has a very distinctive pose of a runner with one leg raised and both arms spread outwards and slightly over his head. It’s also located in Osaka.